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Israel bans Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf from entering Jerusalem, Gaza

Israel has imposed a travel ban on Assaf, revoking his entry permit, which he earned as an UNRWA ambassador
Palestinian "Arab Idol" winner Mohammed Assaf
Palestinian "Arab Idol" winner Mohammed Assaf described the Israeli travel ban as "a continuation of the policies of oppression" (AFP/file photo)

Israel has imposed an entry ban on Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian singer of "Arab Idol" fame, in a decision described by the star as oppressive.

Assaf was the winner of the 2013 Arab Idol singing contest, becoming hugely popular largely due to his patriotic pro-Palestine songs. He was then named a goodwill ambassador for peace by the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, while the Palestinian government also named him an ambassador of arts and culture. 

Born in Libya, Assaf was raised in Gaza's Khan Younis refugee camp but later moved to the United Arab Emirates, where he is now based with his wife. 

On Thursday, Likud party member Avi Dichter told Israel's Maariv newspaper that the decision to withdraw Assaf's entry permit and revoke his documentation came "after the disclosure of video clips, calling for a struggle against Israel".

Dichter said that although Israel could not prevent Assaf from entering the occupied West Bank, because he holds a Palestinian citizenship card, Israel was "working with UNRWA to stop Assaf's activities in the organisation".

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Dichter said Israel was working with the UAE in examining the possibility of preventing Assaf's artistic activities there.

Israel and the UAE signed a controversial deal on 15 September to normalise their relations. The deal was condemned by Palestinians as an act of betrayal of their struggle against Israeli occupation. 

Assaf, however, faced accusations of condoning the deal after performing at a concert in Dubai after the US first announced the accords in August. 

Assaf condemns the ban

In response to the reports, Assaf said that banning him from visiting occupied East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip "won't stop me from loving my country".

In a tweet on Thursday, Assaf said the Israeli decision was "a continuation of the policies of oppression and curbing freedoms, from which the Palestinian people suffer", adding that he would keep praising his country, Palestine.

"My love and belonging to my country, and my adherence to national constants and values, are things that I am proud of, as one of the children of the steadfast Palestinian people," Assaf said.

Atef Abu Sief, a novelist and the Palestinian minister of culture, condemned the Israeli decision, saying "the incitement carried out by the occupation against Assaf is against the Palestinian national culture that is committed to defending the rights of our people".

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